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Transforming Masculinities: Tearfund’s approach to ending SGBV

Tearfund’s new faith-based programme aims to end SGBV in homes and communities

Written by Prabu Deepan 2018 Available in French, English, Portuguese and Spanish

A group in Brazil takes part in a Transforming Masculinities activity about gender, power and status. Photo: Prabu Deepan/Tearfund

A group in Brazil takes part in a Transforming Masculinities activity about gender, power and status. Photo: Prabu Deepan/Tearfund

Survivors of SGBV often keep silent about their pain.

From: Sexual and gender-based violence – Footsteps 106

Ideas for how we can end sexual and gender-based violence and provide holistic support to survivors

What can we do to end sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in our homes and communities? Tearfund has developed a new faith-based approach called Transforming Masculinities to help achieve this goal.

Inequality between men and women is a driving force behind SGBV. If we are serious about ending gender inequality, we need to address people’s harmful ideas about what it means to be male or female. 

To date, many development programmes have focused on raising awareness of SGBV and empowering and advocating for the rights of women, girls and survivors. Yet what has been lacking is engagement with men and boys, who are the main group that carries out violence (and are sometimes victims themselves). Also, men hold positions of power and influence in many contexts – culturally, politically and in the church. If we engage with them meaningfully, they can be great allies for promoting gender equality. 

The Transforming Masculinities approach looks at the different ideas people have about what it means to be a man – in homes, relationships, communities and society in general. Sometimes society teaches men to behave in ways that are harmful to themselves and others, especially towards women and girls. Transforming Masculinities creates the space for conversations, reflections, accountability and a shared journey with other men to break the cycle of violence. It promotes positive aspects of being a man, taking Jesus as our example.

Using faith and scriptures 

The majority of the world’s people follow a religious tradition or faith. Sometimes faith leaders (who are usually male) and certain interpretations of scriptural texts can reinforce beliefs that give men more power and value than women. These harmful interpretations allow gender inequality to continue, and are often even used to justify violence and to shame survivors of SGBV. 

However, faith leaders and faith traditions can equally be powerful agents for change in addressing SGBV. The Transforming Masculinities approach engages with faith leaders, and trains ‘Gender Champions’, who then facilitate community dialogues. 

Transforming masculinities diagram

Transforming masculinities diagram

What is the impact? 

Transforming Masculinities is currently being used in eight countries, including Brazil, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Nigeria. So far, Tearfund has trained more than 400 faith leaders and 200 Gender Champions, and more than 3,000 people have completed community dialogues. Initial results and monitoring data show: 

  • significant reduction in intimate partner violence 
  • more conversations taking place about gender 
  • a reduction in gender-based violence between men and women 
  • faith leaders speaking out more about gender-based violence during their services 
  • better support for survivors 
  • men becoming more involved in household tasks 
  • improved decision-making processes within families. 

We believe that Transforming Masculinities will help both to change individual behaviour and build a society free of all forms of SGBV. 

Group activity: Jesus, our role model

This Bible reflection for a small group is adapted from the Transforming Masculinities manual.

Read Ephesians 5:22–25 

Invite participants to get into three groups. Each group should make a list of 10 to 12 characteristics of men from their community, and then 10 to 12 characteristics of Jesus Christ. 

Ask each group to discuss the following and present back key points to the larger group, giving them 20 minutes to discuss and reflect: 

Group 1: Look at relationships. How did Jesus interact with his family, friends, colleagues, disciples and the women who followed him? 

Guiding thoughts: If men today were to be like Jesus, how would they treat women? Girls? Daughters? Sisters? Wives? Mothers? What kind of fathers/husbands would they be? (Consider Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17), cooking for Peter (John 21:10–14), telling Martha that paying attention to him was more important than being busy (Luke 10:38–42), weeping for his friend Lazarus (John 11:17–43) etc.) 

Group 2: How did Jesus respond to those who were stigmatised by their community, such as women who were rejected and discriminated against? 

Guiding thoughts: If men today were to be like Jesus, how would they respond to survivors of abuse? Would they blame the ‘victims’? Would they stigmatise them? Reject them? Allow them to be abused again? (Look at how Jesus treats the Samaritan woman (John 4:4–26), the woman with an issue of blood (Luke 8:43–48), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11), the woman who washed his feet (Luke 7:36–50) etc.) 

Group 3: What kind of leader was Jesus? How did he lead? How did he teach? How did he interact with those he led? 

Guiding thoughts: If men and women want to be leaders like Jesus, how should they lead? How would they lead to end sexual and gender-based violence? How would they address gender inequality? Polygamy? Harmful practices at home, in our churches, in our community? (Focus on Jesus as the servant leader: he came to serve and not to be served; he led in humility, with love, compassion and empathy.) 

In conclusion... 

Make the point that we can see that Jesus was a great role model for men. Even in circumstances that were not always fair or right, he maintained self-control. He became angry but was never violent. In fact, he spoke against violence. He communicated without aggression and he was patient, meeting people at their point of need. Most importantly, he defied all social, religious and cultural norms for being a man of that time. 

Ask participants to reflect on how they can promote this model in their communities, churches and homes and how they personally can model such behaviour.

Transforming Masculinities
Community Dialogues

You can use the Transforming Masculinities guide to lead workshops with faith leaders and to train Gender Champions. It encourages participants to reflect on gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The Community Dialogues manual enables trained Gender Champions to facilitate community discussions on gender equality and SGBV. Both can be downloaded free of charge from in English, French and Portuguese.

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Written by

Written by  Prabu Deepan

Prabu Deepan leads Tearfund’s work in Asia. He has more than fourteen years of experience working on HIV, sustained humanitarian response and sexual and gender-based violence. Prabu also co-created Tearfund’s evidence-based Transforming Masculinities initiative, which promotes positive masculinities and gender equality to more effectively address sexual and gender-based violence within a faith-based context.

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